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Deidre Conner 

Identification and Transportation

Early in their quest to solve the Jewish Question,(die Judenfrage)
the Nazis employed groups known as Einsatzgruppen in the Balkans,
Poland, and the Soviet Union. These special task forces were SS
death squads that conquered villages, towns, and cities, rounded
up their entire Jewish population, and brutally shot them, burying
them in local mass graves. Another method involved packing victims
into trucks or vans, killing them by directing the exhaust fumes into
the enclosed area on the way to mass graves.
(Encyclopædia Britannica Online)

However, these methods concerned Nazi leaders. Shootings at
places such as Babi Yar, were too public, often carried out in full
view of civilians and regular German army troops. There were also
indications that such firing squad activities were having a demoralizing
effect on those military personnel who participated - in particular,
the close-range shooting of women and children. Heinrich Himmler,
head of the SS, suggested that a "more humane" and "rational" method of "disinfecting" the area was needed. 1

It was at the Wannsee Conference that the “Final Solution” that the
idea for transporting Jews to extermination camps for murder and
cremation took shape. One of the key planners and implementers
of this program was Adolf Eichmann.

Transporting enough Jews to feed the death camps was a major
logistical undertaking. In charge was Adolph Eichmann, who traveled
from country to country that was under German occupation to
systematically plan the deportation of the local Jewish population to
the death camps.2.

The first step in the implementation of the “Final Solution” was deportation. Typically, Jews were informed by SS members that they were going to be resettled for work. They were told to take some clothing, blankets, shoes, eating utensils (but no knife), a bowl, and some money. They were rounded up and were either herded into trucks for the trip to the rail station, or were forced to walk. The rail cars were often purposefully located at a distance from the passenger terminals, so that this scene would not arouse the ire of the local populace.

Deportees were forced into the mostly windowless, unheated cattle
cars, and squeezed in so tightly that most were forced to stand. The
doors were then sealed shut from the outside. Neither drinking water
nor sanitary facilities were available. Each car held more than 120 people, although, during one Romanian deportation, 200 people were crammed into each car. (Levin 569)

Into this single train, five thousand people were transported 20 miles
over three days, and when the doors were opened, two thousand
bodies rolled out, dead from suffocation (569). Many also froze to
death or succumbed to disease during the trip to the camps. The
dead were not removed from the cars during the journey because
the Nazi bureaucracy insisted that each body entering a car be
accounted for at the destination.

Jeanette Wolf, a leading Socialist figure in pre-Hitler Germany, and Deputy Mayor of Berlin in the postwar period told her experience being deported to Riga from Dortmund in 1942: “On the morning of January 25, a long and dismal march brought us to a train standing near the railroad station. Rumors spread that it was going to Riga in Latvia. We rode five days in the cold train without warm food and tortured by thirst. A few people at a time were permitted to leave each car to get water; and a few minutes were allowed for cleaning ourselves in the snow. Men and women had to perform their toilet in front on the rail embankment in each other’s presence. In the terrible cold, hundreds of people froze parts of their bodies and developed gangreneous fingers and toes, and many died after reaching the camp. . . Such baggage as sewing machines, mattresses and stoves, which we had been permitted to take along, we never saw again.” (Levin 470)

Trains were not the only means that used to deport Jews. When Germany invaded Norway, deportees were carried first by the ship Donau, and then transported to Auschwitz from the mainland. Yitshak Arad, a Holocaust scholar: “The millions of Jews who were taken from their places of residence, ghettos or transit camps did not in any way know that they were being brought to extermination camps nor did they know what fate awaited them. Most of them had not even heard of the existence of such camps. Rumors about the death camps did, it is true, reach Warsaw and other ghettos in Poland, but the public for the most part did not want to believe them.”

How were Jews identified to be captured? A number of methods were used to identify Jews. First of all, in all German-occupied countries, identity papers of Jews were stamped with a “J.” 

Also, in most places, Jews, from about age five, were required to wear the yellow star that has become one of the symbols of the Holocaust. In Romania, where the yellow badge measure was put into effect in the Summer of 1941, the press openly acknowledged the country’s virulently anti-Semitism. One newspaper editorial said: “ The Jews will thus be despised everywhere . . . The nation should know that the yellow badge means treason, espionage, murder, communism and the destruction of the Holy Cross”(Levin 570).

However, the stamp on a paper or the yellow star worn for all the world to see were simply the last measures in a series of anit-Semitic mandates passed over the years in German-controlled territories. Jews were gradually deprived of their jobs, their property, their citizenship, and their civil rights. By the time they were forced to give up their right to live, they needed not be identified only by a yellow star pinned to their coat.


“Holocaust.” Encyclopaedia Britannica Online:

Levin, Nora. The Holocaust: The Destruction of European Jewry 1933-1945. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1968.

“Testimonies of SS-Men Regarding Gassing Vans.” A Teacher’s Guide to the Holocaust.

“The Final Solution.”

“The Ghettoization of European Jews: Deportation and Resettlement in the East.”